Sense of Mattering in Late Life

  • Elena M. Fazio


Tony matters to his family. He knows that he matters to his family and derives great happiness from being a parent and husband. He shows his love for his significant others by way of fixing their cars, making money to support their needs, and providing emotional support. At least, he did all of this when he was younger. A decade ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and over time his ability to be the father and husband, as he wants to be, has changed. His easy smile and ready laugh are forever hallmarks of his spirit, and accurately suggest the enthusiasm he has for life and family. However, a large portion of the way he used to show care for to his wife and adult children cannot be accomplished at this time. His family wonders, whether changes in the social roles he occupies as well as the physical changes he has undergone have impacted his sense of mattering to others and his overall well-being?

Leonard Pearlin’s work on social stress and the self-concept, joined together with his long-time friend and colleague Morris Rosenberg’s work on the sense of mattering, provides an appropriate framework to address this question. Mattering, as one measure of the self-concept has not readily been incorporated into research on social stress and its effects on well-being (Pearlin and LeBlanc 2001). Looking at older adults, – many of whom, like Tony, have undergone physical and social changes, – provides a means to better understand mattering as part of the stress process model. Moreover, mattering can help us to learn more about the self-concept in late life.

Tony’s experience may be typical of a growing proportion of older adults. Once connected, vibrant middle-aged adults, some older Americans may feel that they are no longer important to others. Pearlin’s work tells us that the self-concept is important and relevant in the lives of all persons across the life course, where the self-concept is measured as sense of mastery, self-esteem, or sense of mattering. Regarding mattering, he writes that one cannot be without a sense of mattering, and at the same time enjoy a state of well-being, for mattering is a foundation block of psychological well-being (Pearlin and LeBlanc 2001).


Physical Health Work Role Late Life Physical Health Status Caregiver Role 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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